- illustration by ashley-renee cribbins
Hales' proposal to amend the city's charter, meant to limit how the city might spend money from a potential street fee, has been delayed for a week amid some lingering dispute over how those aforementioned limits are spelled out. And other legal language spelling out the promise to vote again November was altered to reflect the chance some other funding mechanism replaces the street fee.
"There's still some more work that needs to be done fine-tuning the work of that charter language," Hales said during this morning's council meeting. "The sense of that [amendment] is not going to vary."
The proposed ordinance creating what's technically called the "transportation user fee" said 80 percent of the $40 million to $50 million expected to have been raised annually was supposed to be spent on maintenance and safety projects. The charter amendment said only "half" of those revenues would be spent on those needs—a disconnect raised by both Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz, who looms as the third vote for the fee.
Fritz seemed ready to have actually proposed that language change during the meeting, reading her preferred language out loud, into the record. Novick and Hales both said they thought the current language was adequate but said they wouldn't necessarily oppose clarifications. (Hales even betrayed his inclination to formally support it: Late during the hearing, he misspoke and said Fritz's suggested modification had already been approved. Fritz gently corrected him.)
Regarding the other technical changes, in a resolution intended to bind the council into passing both pieces by November or none at all, Novick offered new language acknowledging the delay in the residential fee and realizing that the council may not pass a straight-up street fee at all. (He said he was inspired, in part, by Fish.)
As the Mercury first reported Friday, he's considering some mechanism for looking at small businesses' profits—saying, this morning, that the city's current business license tax could offer an entrée into that arrangement. Yesterday, Novick wrote on his blog that he's also open to considering sales and income taxes.
"It's appropriate to give our advisory committee and ourselves more combinations of options," Novick says.
Hales said yesterday, and repeated the sentiment today, that he's still in favor of a street fee. But if some other mechanism arises—through work groups announced yesterday—and it raises sufficient funding and doesn't unduly burden any group? Then Hales would be open to considering it.
"This is a constructive opening," he allowed, "and may even produce a new idea."
And, true to form during this whole debate, this chapter of the saga also included a mite of drama near the end. Fish, in what was likely a symbolic measure of collegiality, signaled he'd refrain from being as pointed about his heartburn over still-living decision not to put the fee before voter first—allowing that the whole thing might dramatically evolve over the next five months.
"My general preference," Fish said, softening his tone, "is to refer it to the voters for the final say."
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who opposed a mere council vote on this fee despite voting in 2008 to pass a smaller fee without sending it to voters first, kept much quieter than his remarks during last week's public hearing where he thundered not so much about dollar amounts but about the need to trust voters. Asked to vote on one of the amendments, all he mustered was "no."
And Hales challenged Salem to join the city with revenue measures in 2015—which he said will be easier if the city does its part first, in the name of "credibility." And he got in a veiled shot at Sandra McDonough of the Portland Business Alliance, who told the Oregonian she welcomed the slowdown but still had lingering overall questions about the fee.
"Understand," Hales said. "We have to pay our bills. And now we have to start paying our street bill."